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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 323 pages of information about Ma Pettengill.

And a moment later: 

“Curious thing about reformers:  They don’t seem to get a lot of pleasure out of their labours unless the ones they reform resist and suffer, and show a proper sense of their degradation.  I bet a lot of reformers would quit to-morrow if they knew their work wasn’t going to bother people any.”

VI

THE PORCH WREN

So it befell, in a shining and memorable interlude that there was talk of the oldest living boy scout, who was said to have rats in his wainscoting; of the oldest living debutante, who was also a porch wren; and of the body snatcher.  Little of the talk was mine; a query now and again.  It was Ma Pettengill’s talk, and I put it here for what it may be worth, hoping I may close-knit and harmonize its themes, so diverse as that of the wardrobe trunk, the age of the earth, what every woman thinks she knows, and the Upper Silurian trilobites.

It might be well to start with the concrete, and baby’s picture seems to be an acceptable springboard from which to dive into the recital.  It came in the evening’s mail and was extended to me by Mrs. Lysander John Pettengill, with poorly suppressed emotion.  The thing excited no emotion in me that I could not easily suppress.  It was the most banal of all snapshots—­a young woman bending Madonna-wise above something carefully swathed, flanked by a youngish man who revealed a self-conscious smirk through his carefully pointed beard.  The light did harshly by the bent faces of the couple and the disclosed fragment of the swathed thing was a weakish white blob.

I need not say that there must be millions of these pathetic revealments burdening our mails day by day.  I myself must have looked coldly upon over a thousand.

“Well, what of it?” I demanded shortly.

“I bet you can’t guess what’s in that bundle!” said my hostess in a large playful manner.

I said what I could see of it looked like a half portion of plain boiled cauliflower, but that in all probability the object was an infant, a human infant—­or, to use a common expression, a baby.  Whereupon the lady drew herself up and remarked in the clipped accent of a parrot: 

“No, sir; it’s a carboniferous trilobite of the Upper Silurian.”

This, indeed, piqued me.  It made a difference.  I said was it possible?  Mrs. Pettengill said it was worse than possible; it was inevitable.  She seemed about to rest there; so I accused her of ill-natured jesting and took up the previous day’s issue of the Red Gap Recorder, meaning to appear bored.  It worked.

“Well, if Professor Oswald Pennypacker don’t call his infant that, you can bet your new trout rod he calls it something just as good.  Mebbe I better read what the proud mother says.”

“It would be the kind thing before you spread evil reports,” I murmured in a tone of gentle rebuke.

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